Being part of a family is important. Knowing that you have someone to cover your back when you need it is a great feeling. No other film in history has instilled the importance of family values quite like the saga of the Corleone family. Electronic Arts has once again returns to their mob simulator for a second outing, and just like the movies the second time is certainly the charm. Instead of focusing efforts on creating a game that mimics other sandbox titles, the team at EA Redwood took the time to create an experience that holds true to the source material, while still delivering a great experience that makes you feel like a member of the Corleone family. While it still isn’t perfect, Godfather II is leaps and bounds above the first game, and one of the most engaging titles I have played all year.
The story revolves around the same plot line of the movie. Michael Corleone is now the Don of the family. The game begins at a meeting in Cuba, where Michael is attempting to expand his business into areas further south of New York. Your role this time around is Dominic, the understudy to the protagonist from the first game. During the festivities a riot breaks out and you are forced to escort Michaels out of the building and head back to New York. Upon your arrival Michael entrusts you with the family, thus beginning your reign as Duke of New York.
Much like the first game you are given the option of customizing your gangster from the outset. There are a wide variety of options, giving you the ability to create some pretty outlandish avatars. Personally I went with the bald, middle-aged man with a sweet goatee. Threatening store owners while wearing a pimp hat is almost unrivaled in certain circles across the globe. You can also outfit your crew (I will touch on this more in a minute) to wear distinct colors and outfits. The level of customization is overwhelming at first, but once you settle into the game it becomes more like a bonus.
Your crew is obtained as you progress through the story, and at choice points you are able to promote them up the ladder. These men will be your muscle as well as your best asset in controlling each city. Each member comes equipped with a specialty that will come in handy throughout the game. Demolitions experts can blow up buildings to slow down rival families’ business, or simply knock down walls to give you a portable back door. Safe crackers are great for thief missions and of course bank robberies. Medics will save you when you are downed on the battlefield and tech guys can cut phone lines preventing other families from calling for backup when you raid their territory. There is a lot of strategy involved in choosing your crew, so choose wisely when the situation arises.
The premise behind Godfather II is much like the first game. You will start slowly by taking over businesses from rival families. This is achieved by visiting the locale and “convincing” the owner to accept your protection. The cool thing about this is that each experience will differ depending on who owns the shop. Each owner has what is known as a weak spot. For instance the guy who runs the electronics shop isn’t intimidated by physical threats, but once you start smashing up his shop he caves in quickly. One of the things that keeps the game from getting stale is that each business encounter is different, and some are significantly more difficult if you don’t approach them from a smart angle. This is where the newest feature in the game comes into play, and makes things much easier for you and your crew.
Controlling your empire is crucial, and to help with that EA has created a brand new feature for Godfather II called Don’s View. This innovative 3D menu system can be accessed at any time, and will allow you to manage everything from the amount of guards you have stationed at a particular business, to deploying made men to handle attacks on your income. This makes the game almost feel like a hybrid between real-time strategy and open-world. You can plan actions, and even execute some of them directly from the Don’s View, making menial tasks as easy as pressing a button. This is also where you can manage your entire crew, as well as performing upgrades and equipping them with better weapons. This new addition to the game makes handling the micro-management more streamlined, thus creating a more enjoyable experience overall.
Taking down the city is not as easy as moving from stronghold to stronghold though. Godfather II requires precise planning and a little bit of strategy to wipe out each family, and control the city. Owning an entire ring of businesses will give you bonuses, such as owning all four gun rackets giving you extra ammo, while controlling the drug market will decrease the cost of guards. Your money is handled on income versus expense, so it is wise to keep track of your spending. Also if a rival family bombs one of your businesses you lose whatever bonus you may have obtained. This works both ways and makes it easier to take down other families, but the real key is to learn the locations of their made men, and take them out one at a time.
Just like in the movies you can slowly trim down the opposition by finding and eliminating them. You can learn their whereabouts by doing favors for people scattered across the map, and if you manage to kill them based on specific circumstances you will earn a bonus, not to mention some Achievements/Trophies. There is certainly never a lack of things to do within the game, and their variety is nicely paced. Another thing that I really enjoyed was that the game progressively introduced all the new features slow enough to let me get used to the previous ones. Never was there a time where I felt overwhelmed by everything that was going on. This is easily one of the more structured open-world games I have played, and personally I like the direction they took with it.
Controls are much what you remember from the original game. It employs the third-person mentality where you move with the left stick and aim with the right. Also like the first game you can pull your opponents in by holding down both triggers to initiate a close-combat approach. Once here you can use the analog sticks to either slam your foe around, into objects or simply take out your aggression by beating the life out of them. Cars handle much like you would expect these old boats to control. It will certainly take some getting used to their slow speed and wide turning, but it beats walking. The only improvement would have been a fast travel option, but I can’t discredit the game for omitting it as rarely do we see the option in any game of this type.
One of the other new additions is the ability to play the game online in an assortment of modes. Much like any other game today you can opt to play team deathmatch online, which consists of much of what you would expect. There are also ability-specific modes such as demolition and safe-cracking. Lastly there is a Don’s mode where you and your opponent place bets on which crew will win, then direct their soldiers in an attempt at victory. While not entirely original all of the online modes are pretty enjoyable. There is also a benefit to playing online as it allows you a chance to earn upgrades for your weapons in single player. Do not fret though, playing online is certainly not required to fully experience the single player. Overall the availability to take your crew online and the diversity of game types should provide a nice diversion once you complete the main story.
Presentation wise the game is a mixed bag of excellent production and poor implementation. The locales are very easy to distinguish from each other, even the indoor locales. A lot of effort was obviously put into making the game feel different from city to city. Character models are decent enough, but when compared to other games in the genre they can feel a bit dated. I have to mention just how good the fire looks, as it spreads over areas and covers surfaces nearly flawlessly. Probably the most impressive portion of the package though is the audio. The music is fantastic and the voiceovers are even more impressive. There are certainly more than a fair share of mature words to be found here, but when you base a game on an R rated movie, make it about mobsters and crime it is nothing you shouldn’t have anticipated before going in.
As far as sequels go Godfather II is one of the better examples of how to take a good idea and make it great. The game ropes you in early, and continues the methodical pace through most of the experience. Aside from a few nagging issues the single player campaign should keep you occupied for double digit hours and the online is entertaining enough that you should not just skip over it. If you are a fan of the movies or mob-style games in general I definitely recommend giving this sequel a go. The Don’s View takes away a lot of the tedium while everything else just feels more polished. EA continues to improve the series, let’s just hope the final chapter doesn’t follow the pattern of the movies.